Aaron Gilbert worked hard at math and science and made good grades as a junior at Poolesville High School. Still, the idea of using those skills in the workplace was a bit unimaginable.

But a summer program introducing Gilbert to careers in engineering gave the 16-year-old some ideas about how to put his skills to work.

"It was a really good experience that showed me how you actually use engineering every day," said Gilbert, who plans to major in computer, biomedical or electrical engineering.

HeadsUp, sponsored by the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County campus, is designed to get more high school students and college freshmen interested in engineering. Hopkins held its fourth annual recruitment fair at its Rockville campus two weeks ago to sign students up for the program.

"Everything we deal with in life is really about engineering," said Richard Scott, the program's director. "We show them there's a whole wonderful, wide range of fields available to them."

HeadsUp participants attend a college-level class in the summer twice a week at the Rockville campus. Some of the students are chosen for internships at biotech, engineering and science-related companies in the region. Students receive college credits for the classes, and some of the internships are paid.

To qualify, students must have completed their sophomore year of high school and have at least a 3.0 grade-point average. Each three-credit class costs $1,530; financial aid is available.

Hopkins said 22 students from the region took its classes last summer and were placed in internships at 14 area engineering and science companies, including Quanta Systems Corp., a federal security contractor in Gaithersburg; Bechtel Corp., an engineering and construction company in Frederick; and Virion Systems Inc., a biotech company based in Rockville.

Scott said it takes some persuading to get companies to hire the young workers. But many executives find that once the students are onboard, they have a lot of energy and ideas to contribute.

"We do have to sell it to companies," Scott said. "They get the area's best students to infuse curiosity and life and excitement into their company."

Phil Blackman, president of Quanta Systems, has hired interns since HeadsUp started.

"It gives an opportunity for the best and brightest minds to get ahead," Blackman said. "It gives them a chance to really get their heads into engineering. Some of them are so intellectually mature that they're not really getting challenged enough in their high schools, and at companies they can see what they know."

Ilene Busch-Vishniac, dean of the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins, developed HeadsUp for the Montgomery campus, Scott said. There is a well-established summer program at the university's Baltimore center, where students take classes and live on campus, but there was nothing like it elsewhere. Sarah Steinberg, executive director of Hopkins's part-time engineering program in Rockville, also helped develop HeadsUp.

"This brings the opportunity to Montgomery County," said Scott, who also heads the part-time engineering program for Hopkins in Rockville.

"A lot of upper-management jobs in engineering will be open," Scott said, as baby boomers retire in increasing numbers over the next two decades. "These young engineers we're training will get pushed into those companies and into those positions."

-- Dana Hedgpeth

Engineer Marvin Perlman watches Shankar Mohan Kumar, 11, his father, Sundaramoorthy Mohan Kumar, and his sister Suganya Mohan Kumar, 15, a Wootton High School student, fix an electrical problem.Gavin Kanga, a Wootton High School student who's attended the recruitment fair before, checks out the Wootton team's robot.